Greenhouse To Home

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

July 3, 2009 5 min read


If you build it right, plants and veggies will come

Vicky Katz Whitaker

Creators News Service

Building a greenhouse sounds simple enough, and it is for someone who thinks it can be made from a pile of lumber and thin plastic sheeting. But will it withstand autumn's chill or that first heavy snow?

Probably not, the experts say. If you really want to enjoy growing fruits, veggies and flowers year-round, you'll need a greenhouse that's more substantial, whether it's from a kit or custom-made. Choosing the type of greenhouse that will meet your needs is no simple matter, though.

In fact, before you lay out that first dollar, you'll need to become savvy about design, construction materials, drainage, plumbing, electric and heating needs, operating costs, location and an assortment of add-ons, from slop sinks and window shades to automatic roof vents, timed watering systems and even weather forecasting equipment. You'll also need to know about the types of plants that do best in a greenhouse setting.

"Most people who purchase a greenhouse don't really know what they are going to do with it. So many people are growing food right now, so that is changing, but most people do not start with a specific plan in mind," said Michelle Moore, a 20-year veteran of the greenhouse business and owner of Oregon-based Adaptive Plastics, Inc., makers of Solexx Greenhouses. "Purchasing a greenhouse that can be added on to is a very good idea. The only downside is people tend to think it will be years before they need the addition so they are surprised to find how quickly they've outgrown the space."

A good rule of thumb, she said, "is to purchase the largest greenhouse you can until you max out your space or your budget. The only caveat is it's rarely worth trading size for quality. Something big that burns plants just [means] more dead plants."

From placement to location, interior designer Dale Carol Anderson has learned a lot about greenhouses from adding one to her own home for her husband to raise orchids. Anderson, known for creating "winter gardens" in Chicago-area luxury homes and estates, included a small seating area, a timed watering system, rain sensors to control window vents, a sink, floor drains and a durable tile floor, as well as a coil-spring hose that reaches across the greenhouse but snaps back into place.

"There's a lot of work and a lot of maintenance," she admitted, but loves the idea of "a room that you can cleanup with a hose."

While home greenhouses usually are smaller than most commercial ventures, there are lessons to be learned from the pros like chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, co-owners of Summer Winter restaurant in Burlington, Mass. and Arrows restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine. With greenhouses at the core of their operations, producing several types of mint, hard-to-find herbs, lettuces, beans, tomatoes and even lemons, their 20 years of experience has taught them that paying attention to the basics is what counts. They include things like equipping the greenhouse with water, heat and the best materials you can afford.

"If glass is in your budget, it is the best material, great in quality and lasts the longest. In cold climates, like in Maine and Massachusetts, a propane or wood heater is essential if you want to extend the growing season," Frasier said. "Additional luxury features you can include when building a greenhouse that can only benefit the finished product are water spigots, flexible retractable hoses, or a shade screen to block the heat when the weather becomes too warm."

Also on his must list: a thermostat and flaps that automatically open when the temperature reaches a certain point. "If the greenhouse gets too hot it can start to cook the seedlings and plants," he said.

On the other hand, never let the greenhouse get below 40 degrees, warned Suzette Nordstrom, a Minnesota horticulturist with Monrovia Growers, one of the world's largest producers of container-grown plants. This is especially important if you plan to include tropical plants, a growing trend. Nordstrom said they require "lots of light and should never be allowed to dry out between waterings."

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